Thursday, May 26, 2005

 

Yet another "are you kidding me?" moment in U.S. foreign policy

From Ha'aretz:
Seeking to improve its image among Palestinians, the United States has launched an advertising campaign in the West Bank, using billboards and television commercials filled with grinning children to tell Palestinians they have cleaner water and more classrooms thanks to its generosity.
Yes, and thanks to its "generosity" to Israel their home may have been demolished or their water cut off, and they may not be able to make it to their classroom. This kind of shit is absolutely fucking infuriating on so many levels. First is the condescending attitude that the Palestinians aren't thankful enough for the U.S.'s "generosity." It's also extremely condescending to think that the Palestinians are so stupid that all they need is a well-coordinated ad campaign and they'll forget all about the U.S. support of Israel (monetarily, politically, and militarily). Furthermore it's just such a poor use of money. As the ever-articulate Hanan Ashrawi is quoted:
"The United States should prevent Israel from destroying our infrastructure, instead of spending money to fix it," said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator. "Through the Israeli polices and practices, the U.S. loses credibility. It is going to be very difficult to undo the damage through PR campaigns."
And it's money that is not being used to do those good things that USAID does. So not only is this campaign not going to work (because the Palestinians aren't so stupid that an ad campaign is going to convince them that what they see before their eyes isn't the case) but it's wasting money and it's liable to increase anger even more through its overwhelmingly imperious and condescending nature. It's absolutely unbelievable to me that somebody signed off on this somewhere and was like "hey, that's a good idea!" and may still have his or her job (though hopefully for not much longer).

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

Cole thinks IISS over-optimistic

As I wrote earlier today, the IISS released a report that predicted that it would take at least 5 years for any semblance of order and stability to emerge in Iraq (while in the meantime it was serving the interests of al-Qa`ida and other terrorist groups). Over at Informed Comment, however, Juan Cole isn't nearly as optimistic:
George W. Bush is a stubborn man and Iraq is his project, and he is not going to give up on it. And, by now the rest of the world knows what would await its troops in Iraq, and political leaders are not so stupid as to send their troops into a meat grinder.

Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.
Yes, Prof. Cole, sometimes you are just screwed. A truly depressing thought.

 

Palestine and China

They said that Yasir Arafat never spent two nights in a row in the same place (well, until he got stuck in the Muqata` and the Israelis wouldn't let him out), but recently Mahmud Abbas has been doing a bit of travelling himself, recently hitting up South America, Japan, China, and now coming to the U.S. Having a difficult enough time even figuring out where he was, I'll admit that I didn't keep track of much that came out of this whirlwind tour (other than the Brasilia Declaration). But luckily, Culture of Life Breaking News takes a good look at Abbas's trip to China and the Chinese-Palestinian relationship. It's interesting not only to those who obsess on the Israel-Palestine situation, but also very much through the frame of Chinese-U.S. relations as competing international power players (link via James Wolcott).

 

General War on Terror Update

An article in the Guardian reports on an International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) report, which, unfortunately, is not available online. The following are direct quotes from the report as quoted in the Guardian:
Best estimates suggest that it will take up to five years to create anything close to an effective indigenous force able to impose and guarantee order across the country....

[The inspiration effect of the intervention in Iraq on Islamist terrorism is] the proverbial elephant in the living room. From al-Qaida's point of view, [President] Bush's Iraq policies have arguably produced a confluence of propitious circumstances: a strategically bogged down America, hated by much of the Islamic world, and regarded warily even by its allies.

[Iraq] could serve as a valuable proving ground for 'blooding' foreign jihadists, and could conceivably form the basis of a second generation of capable al-Qaida leaders ... and middle-management players.
It also stated that we're looking at a good five years at least before the Iraqi military has the capability to impose law and order. And that's the best case scenario, which is undercut today by talk of civil war. As reported in the Scotsman:
In the northern city of Tal Afar, there were reports yesterday that militants were in control and that Shiites and Sunnis were fighting in the streets, a day after two car bombs killed at least 20 people.

Police Capt Ahmed Hashem Taki said Tal Afar was experiencing “civil war.” Journalists were blocked from entering the city of 200,000.
Many of Iraq's politicians are making every effort to keep this from happening, I believe, but given the situation in which their capability to keep order and stop the bloody momentum pales in comparison to the capability of insurgents to keep it going. It's quite a frightening prospect.

In another article from the Guardian, two American citizens of Pakistani origin are accusing the U.S. of complicity in their torture and illegal detention by Pakistani security forces.
Brothers Zain and Kashan Afzal, American passport holders of Pakistani origin, said they had been beaten with whips and rods, refused medical treatment and imprisoned in "grave-like" rooms from August 2004 until their release last month.

American agents questioned them at least six times but refused their pleas to help end the torture, provide a lawyer or seek consular assistance, they said. Instead, the FBI threatened to have them sent to Guantánamo Bay unless they admitted belonging to al-Qaida.
Yes, you might say that the U.S. is on a bit of a role right now. Here are some quotes from the Washington Post story (actually quite a bit more substantial than the Guardian story):
"The FBI didn't torture us directly, but it can't be a coincidence that we were beaten severely, kept awake all night or hung upside down by Pakistani agents before each of about 10 interrogation sessions by FBI agents," [Zain] Afzal said. "It was a very coordinated carrot and stick operation."
To get an idea of what our great ally in the war on terror, Pakistan, might have been doing to Afzal, let's see what the U.S. State Department said in it's 2004 human rights report on Pakistan:
In its 2004 human rights report, the State Department cited reports that Pakistani security personnel employed such methods as "burning with cigarettes; whipping the soles of the feet; prolonged isolation; electric shock" and "hanging upside down," among other methods.
Actually, one of the more interesting and revealing nuances of this story is as follows:
Afzal speculated that he and his brother were arrested because they had both been affiliated at one time with Harakat ul-Ansar, a group allied with Kashmiri separatists fighting Indian forces in Kashmir. Although the group has been linked to al Qaeda, Afzal noted that in 1999, when he and his brother underwent guerrilla training at a Harakat camp, it was operating with the full patronage of Pakistan's military and intelligence services. [italics are mine]
Fantastic! A certified winning strategy for the war on terror: train and fund guerilla fighters (give them a dangerous skill set) and then torture and threaten them (set them loose with plenty of resentment and anger). No possible way that could bite you in the ass, is there?

Monday, May 23, 2005

 

Ilan Pappe

There is an interesting short essay in the London Review of Books by Ilan Pappe on Israel's identity not as a Jewish state in the Middle East, but rather as a "white" state in the Middle East. It is very interesting, because I think that this is a large part of what draws U.S. support (both governmental and popular) for Israel. This thinly veiled racism seems so clearly to be partly what drives the popular discourse on Israel as "the only democracy in the Middle East" or the only "civilized" nation in the region, etc. Pappe writes:
The aim of the Zionist project has always been to construct and then defend a Western/‘white’ fortress in the Arab/‘dark’ world. At the heart of the refusal to allow Palestinians the right to return is the fear of Jewish Israelis that they will eventually be outnumbered by Arabs in Israel. This prospect arouses such strong feelings that Israelis seem not to care that their actions are condemned throughout the world; the Jewish propensity to seek atonement has been replaced by pious arrogance and self-righteousness. Their position is not unlike that of the Crusaders when they realised that the Kingdom of Jerusalem they had built in the Holy Land was merely an island in a hostile Islamic world. Or that of the white settlers in Africa, whose enclaves have disappeared more recently, their pretence of being another local tribe shattered. . . .

It is clear why no paid-up Zionist can raise the possibility of negotiating the right of more ‘Arabs’ to return to the Jewish state, even if this were a means to end the conflict. The refusal to entertain the return is nonetheless bizarre – if, that is, one is even slightly removed from the Zionist perception of reality, given that Israel has already ceased to be a state with a Jewish majority, thanks to the influx of Christians from Eastern Europe, the increasing number of guest workers and the fact that secular Jews can in only one sense be regarded as ‘Jewish’. It is less bewildering when one realises that the primary goal is actually to keep the state ‘white’ (the black Jews who came from Ethiopia live in poor areas and are scarcely visible). What matters in the eyes of both left and right in Israel is that the gates are kept closed, and the walls high, to ward off an ‘Arab’ invasion of the Jewish fortress.
In other Ilan Pappe news, he was invited by the defense to speak at the Sami al-Arian trial that is coming up. From Ha'aretz:
The controversial historian from the University of Haifa confirms that he was contacted by the lawyers of some of the defendants. "There are two or three Palestinians among those arrested," Pappe says, "and the Public Defender's Office approached me as an expert in Islamic movements. I am still considering the request and have not yet made a decision.". . .

Don't you have a problem coming to the defense of a defendant who is charged with serious offenses of transferring funds and aiding the terrorism of Islamic Jihad?

Pappe: "I will never defend suicide bombers. I have gone through enough character assassination, so there is no need to add more incitement against me. I have known Sami al-Arian for a few years and in my opinion the accusations against him are wrong. I am not impressed by the American prosecution. Even though we have disagreements, I maintain that this is a political trial. There is a very large distance between expressing a political opinion and supporting terrorism."
Pappe has also been a lightningrod recently because of his support of the academic boycott of Israel.

 

Did somebody say disengagement?

While the big news over the weekend is that Laura Bush got heckled (though luckily it didn't manage to force a facial expression other than blank smile) and that's not nice, awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, it seems that the removal of settlements from Gaza is taking a nice step. Backwards! Though some of this is probably posturing by the settlers, Ha'aretz reports two different anti-disengagement groups as saying that some Israelis are rushing to move to Gaza to throw a wrench in the disengagement gears, and even saying that construction is underway on 300 units for incoming settlers.

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